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31 January 2013

A Lesson on How to Lose SACS Accreditation Featuring the Bibb County School Board

Five years ago, Clayton County received a first-hand lesson on how to lose accreditation, courtesy of their local school board.

A saga well-documented here on this site and in other news publications, detailed the dysfunction of Clayton County's school board. There was infighting. There were violations of the state open meetings law. There were ethics violations. It was, at the risk of being redundant, completely dysfunctional.

After an investigation, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) put the entire Clayton County School System on probation and threatened to yank accreditation entirely if nine standards, concerning school board governance, were not met. SACS set a deadline that came and went without significant action from the local school board, and on 28 August 2008, Clayton County schools lost their accreditation.

Parents were angry. Teachers were angry. Students were angry.

Vernetta Reeves, a parent, told the New York Times, "I can’t believe the state of Georgia would allow adult actions to penalize children. My daughter has been getting college invitations in the mail every day, even from Harvard. Now who knows? Kids don’t understand that. As a parent, I’m having a hard time understanding this."

Yes, it is hard to understand. It is hard to understand how parents, teachers and students could work hard, only to have their efforts negated by the actions of a school board in disarray. Clayton County teachers and students were told that even though they did their job, their labors would be worthless because the school board failed to do theirs. Angered by this loss of accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), Clayton County voters tossed out most, if not all, of the incumbent school board members who put the school system's accreditation at risk.

I relate this entirely true story to the readers of Georgia Politics Unfiltered as a lesson to learn from. Clayton County taught us exactly how to lose accreditation, and what can happen when elected school board put their own internal squabbles ahead of the well-being of the students they're charged with educating.

Sadly, it doesn't appear as if anyone bothered to learned that lesson.

In middle Georgia, dysfunction and disarray rules the Bibb County School Board.

As I highlighted several weeks ago, the Bibb County School System sees itself mired in controversy these days as an internal audit showed that a board member regularly interfered in the school system's day-to-day operations. The school system's former chief financial officer is suing the school system over a demotion, even though he's being paid the same amount of money to do less work. There are questions of whether board members violated the state's open meeting laws. And now, the Macon Telegraph reports, "Unless the Bibb County school system makes big changes, the district’s budget reserves are projected to be in the red after the fiscal 2014 year."

All these ingredients together re-creates the same recipe that lead to Clayton County Schools losing its accreditation in 2008.

Conservative commentator Erick Erickson rightly called the Bibb County School Board, the "fools in charge." Erickson now fears, as I do, the potential loss of accreditation for the largest school system in middle Georgia.

SACS is coming. They're coming in April. They're coming. They're coming to Macon. They are coming. And if SACS finds something they don't like, the first step is probation. The next step is loss of accreditation. Then the Bibb County School Board will have to answer to parents like Vernetta Reeves trying a hard time understanding how children could be punished due to the actions of a pisspoor school board.

Still, it doesn't have to be that way. Bibb County can turn it around. But only if the adults, from community activists to elected officials, recognize their actions affect the kids. Instead of squabbling among themselves, the adults in Bibb County need to refocus their attention on the children matriculating through their schools.